Ask any American what is most likely to cause them to kick the bucket, and the list may include things like stroke, diabetes, cancer, obesity, and unintentional accidents. But the number one killer of both men and women, according to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), is still cardiovascular disease. Cardiovascular disease, more commonly referred to as heart disease, kills about 600,000 Americans each year. That is one out of every four deaths. As organizations like the CDC and the American Heart Association continue to track this tricky killer, many Americans have started to wonder whether cardiovascular disease can be prevented.
In the United States, the most common form of heart disease is coronary artery disease, or CAD. This type of disease crops up when plaque begins to build in the arteries supplying blood to the heart. For some, early symptoms of CAD commonly include chest pain or discomfort called angina. But for many, the first sign of CAD occurs when plaque completely blocks an artery and causes a heart attack. Other common forms of cardiovascular disease include congestive heart failure and congenital heart disease.
The American Heart Association recently announced a new initiative to improve America’s heart health by 20 percent while reducing death by heart disease and stroke by 20 percent. The AHA is aiming to meet both goals by the year 2020. To help them meet these goals, the AHA has created a way to more accurately measure the cardiovascular health of Americans while defining “ideal cardiovascular health” for the first time in the organization’s history.
The AHA’s definition of “ideal cardiovascular health” includes both the absence of disease and the presence of seven critical health factors called “Life’s Simple 7.” According to the AHA, about 80 percent of cardiovascular disease and strokes can be prevented. New heart disease prevention efforts work to educate Americans, urging them to follow the organization’s seven simple techniques. The techniques include committing to daily physical activity, controlling cholesterol levels, eating a heart-healthy diet, managing blood pressure, losing weight, reducing blood sugar, and quitting smoking.
Is there any hope for those who already struggle with heart disease? The AHA states that about one in three Americans may be affected by the disease at some point in their lives. Fortunately, Dr. Dean Ornish, Clinical Professor of Medicine at the University of California, San Francisco and Founder of the Preventive Medicine Research Institute, discovered over twenty years ago that heart disease can actually be reversed. In Ornish’s four step program, outlined in his book, The Spectrum, the doctor introduces four simple steps that work to eliminate behaviors that may have contributed to the disease while helping readers adopt new heart-healthy habits. Ornish’s program includes overhauling eating habits to help reduce arterial plaque, exercising to reduce inflammation of arterial walls, participating in stress-reducing activities like meditation to help increase arterial elasticity, and involving friends and family to help reinforce healthy habits.
As the AHA marches steadfastly toward their goal to reduce death by cardiovascular disease and stroke, they continue to remind Americans that heart-healthy habits are critical and that the nation’s number one killer can be prevented. To learn more about the AHA’s cardiovascular disease prevention techniques, visit their website and search for “Life’s Simple 7.”
By Katie Bloomstrom